Hyperlink Clearing House: Stoic Blogging Edition

October 10, 2008 at 10:36 am | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

It’s a strange experience, blogging during the midst of a financial crisis, particularly when most of what you’re writing about doesn’t have any relevance to it. Whether it’s a post about homelessness, obesity or council tax, each one has a somewhat futile, oblivious air to it, as though you’re still writing about the world as it was before bank after hopeless bank began to break from all that bad debt. There’s this creeping sense of unease that by this time next year, everything you’ve written to date will have been rendered obsolete.

At the same time, whilst you can recognise that the developments of the past month will completely alter the way we live, the markets are in such a violent state of flux that it’s not really possible to write about this new era until there’s some semblance of stability and the true costs are known.

All of which is a pretty long-winded argument for why I’m carrying on regardless. So in the spirit of British stoicism, here’s some exceedingly good writing – which has absolutely nothing to do with the end of the world – for you to enjoy whilst capitalism eats itself.

  • This article at The American Scholar traces the history of the phrase ‘the most important election ever’ and concludes that it’s hardly ever true. Yes, that includes 2008.
  • Michael Kinsley describes yet another worrying example of John McCain blowing up at (literally) the slightest touch.
  • In a move that’s sure to convince certain parts of the left that the Democratic nominee is naught but a hope-mongering good-for-nothing, Iain Dale falls off the tire-swing and endorses Obama.
  • Marko Attila Hoare returns with a beautiful – if somewhat depressing – article on misogyny and fascism in Serbia, and the people brave enough to stand up to it.
  • Mark Lawson smells the stench of anti-American snobbery in the Nobel Committee’s indefensible failure to award the prize for literature to either Philip Roth or John Updike, despite having produced between them at least eight of the greatest works of the post-war era.
  • The New York Times visits The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne to talk about his crack-dealing neighbours and his “freaked-out druggie movie” about astronauts spending Christmas on a spacestation.
  • If we were all living in America, most Brits would be regarded as functioning alcholics. It’s pretty sad that I can take that as a compliment…

Photo by Flickr user Nitric Flog Fish (Creative Commons)



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  1. I’m a little ambivalent about the supposed anti-American snobbery of the Nobel prize for literature. (as per the Mark Lawson link you posted.) As a card carrying Roth fanatic I’d love him to get even more recognition than he already has, but there’s something to be said for specifically formal/experimental literary innovation being recognised where otherwise it would fall into obscurity. Le Clezio is a stunning writer – simultaneously fiercely innovative on a structural level and deeply humane in his content – and he probably needs the recognition rather more than Roth or Updike do. That said, as a summation and recognition of literary merit, the Nobel is surely Roth’s for the taking sooner rather than later, and much of a further delay can only discredit was has otherwise been a fairly eclectic and well judged list of recipients to date.

  2. At least Roth’s in good company; Joyce, Proust, Tolstoy, Bulgakov & Kafka would’ve all made worthy winners but were somehow overlooked. I do find it curious, though, that only one American-born author has won the prize in the past 30 years, and I think it’s fair to wonder why this might be so. There are many potential explanations – literary form, cultural difference, poltics – but I think the committee did itself no favours by awarding Harold Pinter in 2005. Now, Pinter deserved his award, no question, but I don’t think it was very well timed; he was regaining a public profile on the back of his passionate anti-war activities and a steady stream of pretty piss-poor poetry. Then when it came to giving his atrocious speech, he didn’t rail so much against the Bush administration, but Americans in general. Afterwards, I think people could be forgiven for wondering whether this is the kind of thinking behind the likes of Roth & Updike being overlooked for honours – is the prize consciously defining itself against American culture?

    I do take your point, though, about rewarding innovation rather than allowing it to fall into obscurity, and I suppose this takes us to the question of what the prize should be for: should it be for awarding great literature from around the world that might otherwise have been lost (which seems to have been their mission for the past decade), or should it be more like a ‘rock ‘n roll hall of fame’, canonising those writers who’ve already been widely-lauded? Since they only award one prize per year, they certainly can’t do both.

  3. Typically, the criteria the Nobel offers is vague – the most “outstanding work in an ideal direction.” So both ‘hall of fame’ and innovation potentially fall under that category. Ideally I guess a recipient should be able to combine formal innovation with wide-reach and universal themes, which only strengthens the argument for Roth of course. In reality these things are never non-political, and I’d be very surprised if the 30 year drought for the Americans has been purely based on the assessment of literary merit.

    You’re right about Pinter, although his Prize coincided with a general surge in revivals of his plays as well. I don’t remember the details of his acceptance speech – I think I probably turned off in embarrassment – but, if not anti-American as such, it was certainly the worst kind of simplistic tub thumping. Still, he’s a more than worthy recipient nonetheless. As an aside, one of the most interesting things for me in contemporary American fiction is the way in which many writers seem both fiercely protective of and cringingly embarrassed by their own culture(s). (A tension that Franzen articulates beautifully in his essays as you know.) Some of the most stinging indictments of the supposed parochialism of American culture etc that I’ve read have come from top flight American authors, authors who might in the same breath condemn the elitism of European awards committees.

  4. Also, when is Franzen going to, y’know, publish another novel? Is it too much to ask?

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